One of the more remarkable traits of the Baltimore Oriole is its ability to make a home out of an odd collection of cast-offs and under-valued items — grass, bark, horsehair, wool, even cellophane and fishing line. And that's not the end of their cleverness. They are also acrobatic feeders who can snatch a meal from the most unlikely of sources.
Perhaps it's only fitting that the Major League Baseball team of the same name has in the first month of the season demonstrated similar skills. They, too, are succeeding by making use of an eclectic assortment of assets and putting them to clever use.
Let's face it, the Orioles lineup doesn't feature players who would ever make the first-round of the office fantasy draft. Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis may be perennial all-stars someday (we hope), but not quite yet. Even more surprising are the performances of players like Robert Andino, Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen and others who are largely unfamiliar outside the Baltimore Orioles fan base and to all but the most hard core fans of the national pastime.
But fans are getting less casual by the day as the Orioles are perched on top of the American League East and demand attention. The pitching, both starters and relievers, has been nothing short of fantastic. The home run hitting recalls the days of Earl Weaver and an offense driven by the three-run shot. Only the defense has been short of ideal (although even the fielding has had its moments).
If there is a game to symbolize the Orioles' surprising early success, it was Sunday's against the Red Sox that went 17 innings, a marathon effort that exhausted the bullpens of both clubs. Yet into this fray walks Chris Davis, the designated hitter, a part-time player usually found at first base, to pitch two solid innings of relief and earn the win and give the club a weekend sweep.
For a position player to hold a big-time club like the Red Sox scoreless for two innings in tiny Fenway Park is, as any baseball fan will tell you, un-freaking-believable. Remember how stadium announcer Rex Barney would suggest signing fans to contracts when they caught foul balls? Why isn't Chris Davis throwing his 90-mph fastballs (and change-ups) more often?
Heck, give everyone on the bench a tryout at pitcher. Maybe there's more talent hidden in the clubhouse that Buck Showalter doesn't know about.
Best of all, Sunday's improbable win gave goose bumps to Orioles fans who haven't had much to get all tingly about for — oh, about a generation. It's early, of course, and it's entirely possible — even probable — that the team will eventually revert to form, but let's enjoy it while we can.
Clearly, much of Baltimore was not prepared for this. Oriole Park at Camden Yards has seen its share of empty seats so far this season despite the team's winning record. Fans are like jilted lovers; they are wary of getting back in a serious relationship with a baseball team that has broken their hearts so often (call it "Fear of 5th Place" disorder).
How perfectly ironic that Sunday's history-making final innings — arguably the peak moment of the Orioles season so far — were not broadcast on WJZ-TV because the station chose to break away to "60 Minutes" instead. That was all well and good for those cable owners who had the option of MASN, not so nice for those without.
Ah, well. If Baltimore didn't have something to complain about, it wouldn't seem like home. The Orioles are underdogs, and they'll likely be treated as such even if they keep winning. Charm City might have been a baseball town at one time, but these days local fans seem more excited about sixth round Ravens draft choices than what the Birds have accomplished down at the Yards.
Granted, that could change. Racking up wins against the team's next several opponents, the Rangers, Rays and Yankees, would certainly help. As each day goes by, more and more people are beginning to notice. Even if it doesn't last, it's a kick to see the hometown team on top for once. They are scrappy foragers, these Birds with their DH pitchers, and we look forward to seeing what else they can do if given half a chance.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun